For the second straight week, Georgia Tech has to fight back in the fourth quarter just to make the game look close. First it was Notre Dame. Now it’s Duke. Both losses hurt but in two totally different ways. Georgia Tech has an identity crisis and no one knows why.
Here are five takeaways from Georgia Tech’s loss to Duke.
Georgia Tech’s special teams play was the difference in the game
The special teams blunders started early in the first quarter for the Yellow Jackets when senior long snapper Sean Tobin snapped the ball way over the head of punter Ryan Roadwell. Roadwell then tried to pick the ball up and throw it, unsuccessfully, and giving the Blue Devils the ball in Georgia Tech territory. Four plays later, Duke scored. The next Georgia Tech offensive drive ended in a 69-yard punt return by Duke’s Ryan Smith to the Georgia Tech 1-yard line. Shaquille Powell would score on the next play to put Duke up 19-3 in the first quarter. It didn’t get any better for the Jackets later, as Duke return man DeVon Edwards took the opening second half kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown putting the Devils up 26-13. The Yellow Jackets couldn’t get anything going for themselves on special teams, as they averaged just 18.6 yards per kick return and 3.0 yards per punt return.
Duke’s defense played smart, stay-at-home football
You have to give David Cutcliffe and company credit here. When playing a triple-option team, you have to be disciplined and contain each and every run threat. Duke did this in a spectacular way. The Devils allowed only 173 rushing yards on 60 carries resulting in a 2.9 yards per carry average, the second-lowest total by a Paul Johnson team since a 2013 bowl loss to Mississippi. The Blue Devils gave up 316 total yards and lost the time of possession and turnover battle but when you only allow Georgia Tech to muster 16 first downs, you put yourself in a great position to win.
Justin Thomas continues to struggle
I thought after the Notre Dame loss, Georgia Tech would scale down the passing game and let the run game take over. The problem is, when your run game is only averaging 2.9 yards a carry, you have to throw the ball to try and make up the other seven yards to make a first down. The only problem with that is, Thomas finished the game with a QBR of 18.4. Woof. For the second week in a row Thomas failed to complete even half of his passes and threw just as many interceptions as he did touchdowns. Thomas was supposed to be the best player on this team but he has yet to show that he has fully embraced that role.
Georgia Tech’s defense can’t stop anyone
You give up 30 points to Notre Dame and I get it. Notre Dame has playmakers and depth even when their guys go down. You give up 34 to Duke when its quarterback has a QBR of 25.3 and you’re just plain awful. It doesn’t help that the special teams gave you nothing but still, how do you give up 34 to Duke? For the second straight year the Yellow Jackets gave Duke a short field on multiple drives and couldn’t get key stops when they needed them.
Paul Johnson looks lost
Why do I think Paul Johnson looks lost? Because a Paul Johnson offense doesn’t throw the ball. The Yellow Jackets have thrown the ball over 40 times in the last two games.
I can’t tell if Paul Johnson is trying something new or if he really doesn’t think his run game can get it done but either way he is trying everything on his play card to get Georgia Tech in the end zone. The problem is, it’s just not working. The identity of this team was established the moment Johnson was hired as head coach. Everyone knew what was coming. And Johnson didn’t care. He was going to make you stop him. But in the past two weeks Johnson has made it somewhat easier when you go away from what you have been so successful at doing on the offensive side of the ball. I really wish I had an answer for what Johnson is thinking but I don’t think even he knows.
— Written by Justin Nails, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @justinnails.